NFL1000: Final Regular-Season Breakdown of the League's Top Players
After 17 weeks of grading, noting injury replacements and position switches, and arguing among ourselves as to which particular attributes are most important at every position, the NFL1000 team has come to the end of its first regular season in this particular iteration.
It's been an amazing journey—the ability to assemble a team of 17 scouts to analyze and grade every player in every game has given us (and hopefully you, dear reader) unique insight into how football is played, coached and schemed.
Throughout the year, we've done comprehensive write-ups every week with our player grades and explanations of those grades. But for the regular-season finale, and in the work-up to the postseason (because we're not nearly done yet), it's time to hand out the awards for the best players overall. We have come up with cumulative grades, and you can now see which players we deemed to be the best at their positions and the best overall.
Our top two overall players show the extreme value of quarterback protection. Washington Redskins left tackle Trent Williams was graded as the best overall player, though he missed four games with a league-mandated suspension. There is no blocker in the NFL with Williams' combination of strength, agility and meanness.
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line is the centerpiece of its current success, and left tackle Tyron Smith graded second overall league-wide. No surprise there—Smith has been dominant for the last few years, as pass-rushers can rarely get around him.
Two Philadelphia Eagles offensive linemen ranked in the top six—left tackle Jason Peters and right tackle Lane Johnson, the latter of whom's absence demonstrated his importance. Johnson missed 10 games after being suspended for a performance-enhancing-drug violation, but he was so dominant when he played that it's fair to wonder whether the Eagles would have made the playoffs had he been active all season. Philly's backups never measured up.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers ranks third overall—again, no surprise there. While he may lose the NFL Most Valuable Player award to the Atlanta Falcons signal-caller Matt Ryan, and he did have bouts of inconsistency in 2016, Rodgers was on fire during the second half of the season, showing his rare combination of accuracy, mobility and arm talent. When he's on, he's the best quarterback in the league (and one of the best ever). His grades reflected that throughout the season.
We had specific criteria for entry into the year-end NFL1000 lists: Players had to play at least five games. There are instances in which players switched positions throughout the year (Green Bay receiver/running back Ty Montgomery is a prime example), and for the most part, we graded those players at all of the positions they played and kept them there for the review. We saw scheme changes with the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets defense over the season and switched them from their original 3-4/4-3 designations, so you'll see examples of Jets and Raiders players in our grades for both kinds of ends and linebackers.
As it has been through the season, there is no predetermined narrative with these grades. No mysterious "clutch factor." No tweaked-out quarterback ratings that defy explanation. Our grades are based on pure scouting, and lots of it. We grade the key criteria for each position based on a series of attributes and add in a score for positional importance.
In the case of a tie, our scouts ask, "Which player would I want on my team?" and adjust accordingly.
Is it a subjective process? Of course—that's what scouting is, and as we like to say, ties are no fun.
Each player is evaluated and graded by our crack team of scouts, who possess more than 100 combined years of experience in playing, front-office work, coaching and media. Cian Fahey, John Middlekauff, Marcus Mosher, Mark Schofield, Duke Manyweather, Ethan Young, Joe Goodberry, Justis Mosqueda, Charles McDonald, Zach Kruse, Derrik Klassen, Jerod Brown, Ian Wharton, Kyle Posey, Mark Bullock, Chuck Zodda and Doug Farrar have watched tape for months to bring you these grades.
Here are the final NFL1000 player grades for the 2016 NFL regular season.
All advanced stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
The NFL1000 team of scouts was given a series of important attributes to grade for every player in their positional review. Using a grading scale starting at 0 and going up to anywhere from five to 50 based on the position and the attribute, our scouts grade each player based on their own expertise and countless hours of tape review over the years. Our evaluators are given specific positional assignments based on their proven fields of expertise.
- Doug Farrar: Lead scout/centers
- Cian Fahey: Quarterbacks
- John Middlekauff: Running backs/fullbacks
- Marcus Mosher: Wide receivers/tight ends
- Mark Schofield: Wide receivers/tight ends
- Duke Manyweather: Offensive tackles
- Ethan Young: Offensive guards
- Joe Goodberry: AFC defensive ends
- Justis Mosqueda: NFC defensive ends
- Charles McDonald: Defensive tackles
- Zach Kruse: 3-4 outside linebackers
- Derrik Klassen: 4-3 outside linebackers
- Jerod Brown: Inside linebackers
- Kyle Posey: Cornerbacks
- Ian Wharton: Cornerbacks
- Mark Bullock: Safeties
- Chuck Zodda: Special teams
Every NFL player with snaps in offensive and defensive roles is observed and graded based on a multitiered process that marks specific attributes per position. As we're combing through All-22 footage to assess each performance, there are additional factors to consider.
We adjust for opponent based on the obvious notion that the cornerback we're grading is doing a better job if he's shutting down Antonio Brown than if he's negating the efforts of a seventh-round rookie receiver.
We also adjust for players with multiple responsibilities in the course of a game and over the course of time. Think of guys like Mike Daniels and Michael Bennett on the defensive line—how they seamlessly switch from gap to gap. Or how cornerbacks such as Chris Harris Jr. and Tyrann Mathieu dominate outside and in the slot. Or how receivers such as Doug Baldwin and Larry Fitzgerald bedevil cornerbacks from multiple field positions.
That's more important than ever in today's NFL, and we pay attention to it.
We do not adjust for injuries. If a player is underperforming because of an injury, that's part of his performance, fair or unfair, and it needs to be graded accordingly.
Grading any player is a subjective process, but with a series of attributes per position and a specific direction as to what to grade and how, we work to make it as definitive as possible.
Editor's note: We rounded many scores to fit more neatly within the tables, so please be aware that the rounded versions of the scores may not always appear to add up perfectly. Rest assured that they do within our full spreadsheet.
Top 50 Overall
One of the best parts of the NFL1000 project is how it brings deserved exposure to underrated players. Take Miami Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, who isn't talked about enough among the elite at his position. He was on pace to repeat his stellar 2015 campaign before an October shoulder injury prematurely ended his season. He played just six games but made the cut for our final rankings, and Miami will benefit from his excellence once again next year.
Seattle's Earl Thomas is one of the NFL's best safeties, and after he broke his left leg in Week 13, the Seahawks' generally stellar defense has fallen apart. According to ESPN.com's Bill Barnwell, they had 10 interceptions and allowed seven touchdowns and a 77.8 opponent passer rating when Thomas was on the field. Without him? They've allowed nine touchdowns with one pick and an opponent passer rating of 99.5.
One reason Aaron Rodgers was able to come around in the second half of the season is a lot of great pass-blocking. Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, one of the favorites of offensive tackle scout Duke Manyweather, ranks ninth overall in our grades. Bakhtiari allowed four sacks in 1,055 regular-season snaps, but no hits and just 16 hurries. He also didn't give up any sacks since Week 13.
Another formerly under-the-radar lineman is Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who hasn't allowed a sack since Week 12 after giving up five in the first two weeks of the season. Schwartz has sealed up his technique and his screen blocking has helped to revitalize Kansas City's offense, which relies heavily on screens to Travis Kelce (our top-ranked tight end this season) and various other short passing concepts. Schwartz will play a vital role in the Chiefs' playoff success.
Finally, while the Baltimore Ravens offense was underwhelming throughout the year, that wasn't on fullback Kyle Juszczyk. He helped in every possible way—blocking, running and receiving. Juszczyk making the top 50 and Denver Broncos rookie Andy Janovich just missing the cut seems to indicate that the fullback position might not be dead just yet.
|14||Jadeveon Clowney||3-4 OLB||HOU||78.9|
|20||Von Miller||3-4 OLB||DEN||77.9|
|22||Chris Harris Jr.||CB||DEN||77.3|
|50||Melvin Ingram||3-4 OLB||SD||75.4|
Aaron Rodgers was the top-ranked quarterback at midseason, and he only pulled further away over the second half of the campaign. His Week 16 outing against Minnesota was the best performance of any quarterback all year, and his 300-yard, four-touchdown game against Detroit in Week 17 wasn't far off. Rodgers may not win the MVP—he can thank his receivers for that—but he deserves it more than any other signal-caller.
The likely MVP winner at this point appears to be Atlanta's Matt Ryan, whose numbers have been inflated by an outstanding supporting cast. Julio Jones has been brilliant when available, but more importantly, coordinator Kyle Shanahan's play-calling—combined with an impressive offensive line and pair of great running backs—has put Ryan in position to throw from wide-open pockets of space into wide-open pockets of space. Ryan was also lucky with bad throws that could (or should) have been interceptions.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn't play until the fifth game of the season, but since making his debut, he has been consistently impressive. Though Brady hasn't played at the peak of his powers like in previous seasons, he consistently stood out against weaker opposition. His best game of the year his 406-yard, three-touchdown outing against the Ravens, even though he had one terrible interception.
Sam Bradford's 2015 season with the Philadelphia Eagles was a battle over the first eight games or so, as he struggled to set his feet coming off the second ACL tear of his career. A last-minute trade to the Minnesota Vikings heading into 2016 threatened to disrupt his preparation once again, but Bradford was a stud. Playing behind the worst pass-blocking line in the league with unreliable receivers and often problematic play-calling, Bradford consistently threw receivers open while playing against pressure. Despite those less-than-ideal conditions, he led the league in completion percentage and rarely put the ball at risk of being intercepted.
Injuries also adversely affected Seattle's Russell Wilson in 2016. During the first half of the season, he had multiple lower-body ailments that prevented him from setting his feet comfortably or being his usual elusive self behind the line of scrimmage. Wilson had some great stretches of play this year, but his season as a whole was marred by not being 100 percent.
In the same NFC West division as Wilson, Los Angeles Rams rookie Jared Goff proved to be a disaster, while the player selected immediately after him, Philadelphia's Carson Wentz, wasn't that much better.
Dallas' Dak Prescott outshone both players, as although he has obvious flaws in his ball placement and doesn't offer the same value Tony Romo does, he has consistently done enough to help the Cowboys win. It hasn't all just been the offensive line, either. Prescott's acumen to diagnose coverages and change plays, combined with his poise, has made him an extremely valuable player in Dallas.
- Top Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
- Worst Quarterback: Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers
- Most Accurate: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
- Least Accurate: Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers
- Best Arm: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
- Worst Arm: Ryan Fitzpatrick, New York Jets
- Best Under Pressure/Run Threat: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
- Worst Under Pressure/Run Threat: Gabbert
- Best Decision-Maker: Tom Brady, New England Patriots
- Worst Decision-Maker: Blaine Gabbert, San Francisco 49ers
- Acc: Accuracy (Graded out of 25)
- Arm: Arm Strength (Graded out of 25)
- Press: Pressure/Run Threat (Graded out of 20) (Pressure weighted at 15, run threat at 5)
- Dec: Decision-Making (Graded out of 20)
- Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
- Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
|28||Robert Griffin III||CLE||12.2||18.0||13.2||12.0||10||65.4|
Notable Omissions (Due to Insufficient Games Scored)
In 2016, star running backs made a re-emergence, while a couple of young guys established their worth as great players in the NFL.
Despite being suspended the first three games of the season, Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell was the highest-graded running back in this year's NFL1000. He averaged almost five yards per carry on the ground to go along with 75 catches. He carried the Steelers at times when Ben Roethlisberger struggled. He is a Hall of Fame talent who should break the bank this spring in free agency.
Arizona's David Johnson established himself as the league's second-best running back in 2016, demonstrating an ability to carry an average team when quarterback Carson Palmer struggled. Johnson had a health scare against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17 when he was rolled up on, but he should be 100 percent healthy heading into 2017. He might even be a better receiver than Bell, as he caught 80 balls and possesses the speed to run go routes for the Cardinals. He is an exceptional player, and Arizona should build its offense around him moving forward.
A couple of runners who had a poor 2015 season also bounced back with exceptional years. Buffalo's LeSean McCoy was dominant when he wasn't battling injuries, looking like the player who was a star years ago in Philadelphia. He finished with his highest average per carry of his career (5.4), had his quickness back and was often the most explosive player on the field.
Another former Eagles, DeMarco Murray of the Titans, also had a resurgent season. He helped Tennessee make a playoff push by dominating on the ground in one of the league's most physical running attacks. There might not have been a better downhill runner in 2016. Murray's ability to put his foot in the ground and get north and south is special. In addition, he's a complete back as a blocker and pass-catcher.
Injuries also played a huge role in 2016. The Vikings' Adrian Peterson missed the majority of the season with a torn meniscus. Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs endured multiple setbacks as he worked his way back from a second ACL tear. Miami's Arian Foster retired because of injuries. Some younger players, like the Detroit Lions' Ameer Abdullah and Packers' Eddie Lacy, missed the majority of the year because they could not stay healthy.
Dallas rookie Ezekiel Elliott established himself as a superstar, leading the league in rushing and helping carry the Cowboys to the best record in the NFC. The Chicago Bears look to have found an impact starter in fifth-round pick Jordan Howard, who finished second in the league in rushing behind Elliott.
- Top Running Back: Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Worst Running Back: Bobby Rainey, New York Giants
- Best Inside Runner: Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Worst Inside Runner: Bobby Rainey, New York Giants
- Best Outside Runner: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
- Worst Outside Runner: Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
- Best Receiver: David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
- Worst Receiver: Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
- Best Blocker: Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Worst Blocker: Bobby Rainey, New York Giants
- In: Inside Running (Graded out of 25)
- Out: Outside Running (Graded out of 25)
- Rec: Receiving (Graded out of 20)
- Blk: Blocking (Graded out of 20)
- Pos: Positional Value (Graded out of 10)
- Ovr: Top Possible Score of 100
|2||David A. Johnson||ARI||19.6||18.7||17.9||17.1||6||79.2|
|16||Jonathan C. Stewart||CAR||18.1||16.6||15.2||16.6||6||72.5|
Notable Omissions (Due to Insufficient Games Scored)
- Ameer Abdullah
- Danny Woodhead
- Shane Vereen
- Jamaal Charles
- Rex Burkhead
- Darren McFadden
- Adrian Peterson
- Arian Foster
- Chris Johnson
- DuJuan Harris
- Jonathan Williams
- Reggie Bush
- Kenneth Farrow
- Terron Ward
- KaDeem Carey
- Ronnie Hillman
Fullbacks are somewhat of a dying breed in the NFL, but several teams still utilize the position well.
Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk has established himself as the most dynamic player at the position. He was Balitmore's best offensive player in 2016, with the ability to run, block and catch. He did everything he could to keep their playoff hopes alive in Week 16 against the Steelers, ev